Friday, March 26, 2010

Response to Marcus: More on Trauma in Sovereignty à la James Swan

I have been trying to comment on a response to my response to James Swan of Alpha and Omega Ministries (found here) from Marcus. The post I am responding to is found here. His contentions are in italics.

I think you're missing one of the main premises in my argument, and that is that God creating free agents whom He knows would sin does not somehow cause Him to share in their responsibility for those sins. That seemed to be one of Swan's main points, but I see no reason to impute responsibility of the acts of individual agents to God. The only thing we could say if we were to complain is that God was negligent somehow in creating free creatures even though He knew they would sin. But that, as I say, is just the problem of evil.

Now, to defend my arguments:

The problem is that it does not answer the issues raised in Scripture that we see that God does not just ordain events but also decrees them.

Here is the problem with this argument. You are assuming determinism in this premise itself. What we are trying to determine is whether God is the one decreeing all human actions in the argument between theistic determinism and libertarianism. So to say that the reason I am wrong is because God decrees these sins is begging the question.

In Genesis 50 we find Joseph, whose brothers sold him into the evil of slavery, who lied to their father breaking his heart, claiming Joseph was dead. In front of his brothers, years later Joseph states, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." The two statements in Hebrew are in direct parallel. Joseph's brothers meant evil by their actions, but God intended the same actions for good.

According to the Genesis 50 passage, there is no reason to think that God actively caused Joseph's brothers to sin. That seems to implicate God in that He took part in their sin. No, He simply used their sin to accomplish a far greater good, which actually supports my first argument against the POE.

This same principle can be found in Isaiah 10: 5-12, where God uses Assyria as an instrument of judgment on the rebellious people of Israel, and then holds Assyria responsible for her sinful attitude and desires against Israel.

Same for Isaiah 10. God uses the sins that these individual agents contrived through their own powers of deliberation, through their own wills, for His purposes. He did not purpose or decree or make necessary the sins or actions of individuals, but in foreknowing the sin worked them out for His eternal purposes.

The most important example of compatibilism though is Acts 4:27-28. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles and the Jews all sinfully join forces to crucify Jesus. Yet God's predestined the entire event for his holy purpose.

Same with the Acts 4 passage. God knew that when placed in the situation they were that Pilate and the Pharisees would choose to crucify Jesus. He allowed them to freely act knowing how they would act. He did not cause them to act.

I would argue that its impossible for an unregenerate human being to relate with God. Unregenerate sinner are spiritually dead, remember? Completely unable to obey or even respond to God. All we can do on our own is rebel

The issue isn't whether man in his natural state can do anything to relate to God. Both you and I recognize the need for God's grace because man is totally unable and unwilling to come to Him without His drawing. The issue is whether we can choose to reject this drawing. If we can't, then the entire relationship aspect is called into question. Is a relationship where one side causes the other side to not be able to choose not to be in the relationship a genuine one?

It's interesting to me how people are quick to give us the freedom to reject a relationship with God, yet no thought seems to be given that God could choose who to be in relationship with of God's own free will.

I certainly recognize that it is entirely God's prerogative whom He chooses to show mercy to; whom He chooses to be in a relationship with. I simply believe the scriptures teach that God has purposed to extend His love to all human beings and to allow them to freely come to Him or reject Him.

I think reality may be explained by the the point that God can arbitrarily do whatever God wants at any time.

This contention baffles me, Marcus. If you are correct, then God is the author of sin and He irrationally blames us for the sin He has made necessary. It would contradict the scriptures which indicate that God only does what is good! If this is the case, then how do we differentiate between the works of the devil and the works of God? Indeed, the works of the devil actually are the works of God, since God is the one who decrees and makes necessary the works of the devil, if theistic determinism is true.

My assertion was "He has the right to create free agents, allow them to sin, and hold them responsible for those sins." I don't think He has the right to create people and cause them to sin and then hold them responsible for that sin. That would be totally irrational; a logical contradiction. But God is not irrational and cannot do logically contradictory things.


drwayman said...

Brennon - You seem to answer Marcus well. I'm curious to see his responses.

The story of Joseph seems to be a favorite of exhaustive determinists. I see Joseph's story as one full of choices. The story would have been much different if: 1) Joseph chose not to tell his family about his dreams (which inspired jealousy), 2) his father chose not to favor him (which inspired jealousy), 3) his brothers chose not to be jealous but rather saw that God had a terrific plan for them and Joseph was an integral part of that plan, and 4) his brothers followed Joseph as he followed God. If better choices were made, this story would have been a lot different. The God I serve could still have His purposes fulfilled if there had been better choices. He did not have to lock Joseph into the story that we know to have His purposes accomplished.

Jc_Freak: said...

One of the basic problems with determinists is that they confuse power with morality. Does God have the sovereign right to arbitrarily do whatever He wants? Yes, He has that power. But if He were to do so, He would stop being good by His own standards. It also goes against Scripture which states that God never changes (and Scriptures emphasis when it says this is God's character).

Why can't the get the difference between "God can" and "God must".

bossmanham said...

Dw W.

Thanks for your thoughts. I think you make a good point.


Also a great point. They do confuse the two issues and are willing to accept a God who gets His will done, but at the expense of His goodness. I'm not sure how they fall into that. It's baffling to me, as I said.

Marcus McElhaney said...

Hi, Brennon. Thanks for this Response. I'm sorry that you could not comment on my blog! I have no idea why. When I have ran into the problem using Firefox, I have to keep hitting the send button no more than 2 or three times. I think it's a blogger problem. I want people who read my blog to see your response so I will link my post to this one. I'll have my own response soon. And thanks!!!!

Marcus McElhaney said...

I have response...thanks brothers.

Jc_Freak: said...

I think they fall into that because of their Platonic roots. Because they start with their understanding of the abstract concepts in their simplest and most ideological terms. Thus they define sovereignty as control, and therefore the truest form of sovereignty is absolute control (in this way of thinking). Everything else is based off of those ideologically assumptions.

I, of course, reject those ideological assumptions, since sovereignty is more than mere control, but that's what I see when I talk to most Calvinists on the issue.

drwayman said...

Brennon - Your answer to Marcus' argument of compatibilism in Acts 4 (that God allowed them to freely act) is strengthened by the record of Matthew in 27:19. Pilate was offered a free choice to not conspire with Herod and the gentiles and the people of Israel when his wife warned him that she was troubled in a dream about "this innocent man." I wonder what would have happened if Pilate had listened to his wife? We can be sure that God would have still redeemed the world but maybe in a different way...

bossmanham said...

Dr. W,

I would say if it had not been Pilate, God would have placed a man in Pilate's position whom He knew would make the choice to crucify Christ. It's hard to conceive of counterfactuals in the case of the crucifixion and resurrection in my opinion, but I guess they could exist.

drwayman said...

Brennon - I agree that it is difficult to think of another plan of redemption. We have a coherent biblical theology made of the crucifixion and the satisfaction that blood brings. Also, 2 Tim 1:9 makes it clear that grace was given to us in Jesus before the beginning of time. I Peter 1:20 says that Jesus' salvation was foreknown before the foundation of the world.

So, those verses don't answer my quandary of why was Pilate's wife troubled by the dream of this innocent man and then advised him to let Jesus go? This question presents problems for the theological exhaustive determinist as well. Maybe Marcus has a good answer for that. I would be curious what he has to say as well.

Marcus McElhaney said...

@JC Brother, how would you define sovereignty?

@DrWayman Brother, if God had predestinated and ordained salvation the way it came down to us, are you saying that he decided that Jesus would die in a certain way, under a certain set of circumstances, and at a specific time with everyone since Adam been free to choose to make different choices than they did? In other other words does God not only choose His purposes as well as the means and the instruments of his will?

Also the verses you cited telling us that Jesus' action were foreknown before anything was created and it seems to me that means that everything else was predetermined for and by the event of Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.

I would say that God sometimes warns us we are headed into sin but he knows before hand whether or not we are gonna listen. I would bring up Abimalech as contrast. Abimalechwas warned that if he did not return Sarah he was going to die, however he was kept from having sex with her. Pilate on the other hand was given a warning that Jesus was innocent. This is why I say that God can do whatever he wants and how he wants to do it.

Jc_Freak: said...


Sovereignty is synonymous with majesty and kingliness. Someone is sovereign is someone is in charge. A king is someone who rules over a group or land.

But ruling isn't really the same thing as controlling. It would be unreasonable to say that a person is not a king if he did not cause every event that ever occured in His kingdom. That's simply not what is expected of a king.

What is expected of a king is the order, justice and peace. A king keeps His kingdom stable, makes sure the mechanics that keep the society going are healthy, decrees laws to set a standard for justice, and enforces those laws to maintain justice.

I can understand the Calvinist argument that if God is to be the sovereign over the cosmos than He must minutely control all things due to the nature of ruling the cosmos, but I am not convinced by it, and am annoyed that Calvinists don't argue it. They seem to assume it.

But since minute control is not control is not central to the concept of being a king, than the point must be demonstrated. As those that assert such a claim, the burden of proof for it rests on the Calvinist.

Marcus McElhaney said...

@JC, Thanks, Brother. That is what I thought you had in mind about "sovereignty". MY question is how does the Bible define God's sovereignty. Does it say that God does not have control but just makes sure that it stays stable and polices it? The Bible contains lots of strong language about how much control that God has. In the new testament, the word we get "despot" from is applied to God. An example is Acts 4:24. It's translated in the NAS version as "LORD".

Jc_Freak: said...

"That is what I thought you had in mind about "sovereignty". MY question is how does the Bible define God's sovereignty. Does it say that God does not have control but just makes sure that it stays stable and polices it? The Bible contains lots of strong language about how much control that God has. In the new testament, the word we get "despot" from is applied to God. An example is Acts 4:24. It's translated in the NAS version as "LORD"."

Thanks Mark for your reply.

First, I did not say that God didn't have control, I said that He didn't control. There is a difference. The term "to have control" means to have authority over things, which is most certainly an aspect of ruling. However, "to control" in the indictivative more implies direct causing and manipulation. This distinction is very important in this conversation and must be maintained.

Second, we are not actually talking about what it means for God to be sovereign, but what does it mean to be sovereign. This is a discussion of rhetoric and the definition of an English word. If you want to talk about God being sovereign, fine, that is a worthy discussion. But that is distinct from merely talking about what Sovereignty itself means, and the way in which Calvinists insist that sovereignty simply means for someone to minutely determine everything within their purview is dishonest and inaccurate. This is ultimately my point.

If you wish to concede this point and talk about what it means for God to be sovereign, fine, I'm willing to have that conversation. But first you must agree with me as to the basic definition of sovereignty. After all, if we don't agree to what terms mean, then we'll just be talking past each other (which often happens in this debate).

drwayman said...

Marcus - Thanks for your reply. I must say that I have seen you in other interactions and I appreciate that you don't resort to name-calling and inflammatory statements. Thank you for considering me a Christian brother. I have had numerous discussions with Calvinists who claim that I am not a Christian when I don't believe Calvinism. I believe Calvinists to be Christians as well.

You said, "does God not only choose His purposes as well as the means and the instruments of his will?" God's purposes are sure. His purposes will always come to pass. However, I don't believe that He meticulously chooses the means and the instruments. The means and instruments are chosen due to the choices of the people that God desires to use for His purposes.

Your example of Abimelech clarifies my point. In Gen 20:6 God tells him that He prevented Abimelech from sinning due to the "Integrity of his heart." God kept Abimelech from sinning, that is, from marrying Abraham's wife, as a REWARD of Abimelech's INTEGRITY, as well as Abraham's piety.

The same goes for the parents of Jesus. Joseph and Mary had proven and tested character that placed them, as well as Abimelech, in line for God to intervene. God did a miracle in both of these situations.

Like you said, God is God and can do whatever He wants. So, yes, God can and does intervene as He sees fit. However, as an Arminian, I call that a miracle. Miracles are the exception. That's why they're called miracles. I believe, that the Bible teaches as a general rule, the idea that He has endowed mankind with a freewill.

You also said, "I would say that God sometimes warns us we are headed into sin but he knows before hand whether or not we are gonna listen." I agree with that statement but I disagree with the underlying Calvinist concept that God would place the idea of sinning into the person's mind and then warn that person that s/he is going to be punished for whatever God had placed into his/her mind if s/he follows through and commits the sinful act.

Thanks for reading :-)